What is a Root Canal?
Root canal therapy is a specialized dental procedure designed to retain a tooth safely and comfortably. There is no doubt that a functioning, endodontically treated and well restored tooth is vastly superior to the best replacement. It is generally less expensive to retain the tooth rather than have an extraction coupled with the placement of a bridge or implant. Endodontic therapy usually results in fewer complications and less post-procedure pain than tooth extraction. If a tooth is extracted and not replaced, there is the disadvantage of reduced chewing ability, loss of cosmetic appearance and jeopardy to the health of other teeth due to the increased load they must support. Left untreated, the damaged nerve or pulp becomes a breeding ground for bacteria ultimately leading to painful abscess formation and jaw infections.
Root canal therapy is necessary when the pulp tissue inside the tooth becomes diseased. The most common causes of pulpal disease are decay and trauma (such as an accidental blow to a tooth). The discovery of the pulpal damage may not always be possible when the trauma occurs or when the decay is found. Often we see teeth that become painful and need root canal treatment months or even years after the decay has been removed and the tooth filled. When the infected pulp tissue is removed and the root canals cleaned and sealed by the endodontic procedures, healing can take place.
Root Canal Therapy
Alternatives to root canal therapy are very few and are not usually desirable. One alternative is extraction of the involved tooth and the disadvantages of this were discussed above. Another alternative could be to do nothing, but this leaves the pain and potential infection untreated to possibly worsen. This is not recommended.
Root canal therapy has had the reputation of being a painful procedure, but today, this is not the case. You may have been in considerable pain before the treatment began, but with today’s excellent anesthetics and techniques, the procedure itself is free of discomfort and is specifically designed to return the tooth to comfort and function as quickly as possible.
Root Canal Treatment
The treatment is usually completed in one to three visits depending on the individual situation and complexity involved. When the treatment is complete, a written report with x-rays will be sent to your dentist. Your family dentist will provide the permanent restoration for your tooth. This can be a crown which we sometimes recommend to protect your tooth and to guard against breakage. This should be done as soon as possible after completion of our treatment. Once the tooth is properly treated and restored it can be retained as long as any other tooth. It is not a “dead” tooth as long as the root is embedded in healthy surrounding tissues that give it a blood and nerve supply.
Does a root canal hurt?
Since patients are given anesthesia, a root canal isn’t more painful than a regular dental procedure, such as a filling. A root canal is generally a bit sore or numb after the procedure and can even cause mild discomfort for a few days.
You will most likely be numb for 2-4 hours following the procedure, but most patients are able to return to school or work directly following a root canal. However, it is advised against eating until the numbness is completely gone.
Finally, it must be realized that root canal therapy is not always successful. Success of endodontic treatment depends on the health of the patient and the ability of the body to heal the damage. This healing cannot always be predicted. In a small percentage of cases, surgery is necessary to help the body finally eliminate infection.